Here was a former senior aide to the Prime Minister revealing that, as the threat of Covid grew, the UK government’s reaction was shambolic with Boris Johnson dismissing it as a “scare story” and suggesting he could go on live TV to be injected with the virus – that later nearly killed him – to show there was nothing to fear.
This person, who was at the heart of power during the Covid crisis, went on to claim that the government had made mistakes that meant “tens of thousands of people died who didn't need to die” and apologised for his part in the decision-making process.
He claimed Johnson was “unfit for the job” and that the UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, was “completely incapable” of doing his job, having told numerous lies and presided over the transfer of hospital patients to care homes without a test for Covid.
These are extremely serious allegations and they will be jumped upon by Boris Johnson’s political opponents.
However, the identity of this former aide is a factor that cannot be overlooked. For Dominic Cummings is the same person infamous for a mendacious slogan on the side of a Brexiteer campaign bus and equally well known for the highly spurious claim that he drove to Barnard Castle, with his wife and child in the car, to test whether his eyesight was good enough to drive. And he is also the same person sacked by Johnson after an acrimonious falling out between the two formerly close allies.
It is, therefore, possible that this entertaining drama is based so loosely on the true story that it borders on fiction. But it is also not impossible that he is telling the truth and, of course, Johnson’s own track record on honesty has considerable blemishes.
Government and opposition politicians are likely to engage in a war of words for some time to come on the new ground opened up by Cummings. However, this kind of partisan bickering would be little more than a continuation of the shambolic state of affairs he claims existed within government.
Given more than 152,000 people have died with Covid-19 listed on their death certificate, we need to look beyond the psycho-drama and the rivalries, whether petty, personal or political, to establish the facts.
And the only way we are going to do that is through an independent public inquiry with sweeping powers to summon witnesses, with experts capable of cutting through to the heart of the key issues, and with a clear brief to be swift in making their assessments.
Johnson has promised an inquiry but not until next year. If his government truly has been as dysfunctional as Cummings describes, then it is obvious why he would want to put off the start of the hearings for as long as possible and then hope the inquiry panel will take years to reach their findings.
Questioned about Cummings’ allegations in the Commons, Johnson said that dealing with the pandemic had been “appallingly difficult”. “We have at every stage tried to minimise loss of life, to save lives, to protect the NHS and we have followed the best scientific advice that we can,” he added.
We do not doubt Johnson and his ministers – and also Nicola Sturgeon and her Cabinet – tried to do what they thought was best, but questions remain over whether their decisions were the correct ones.
There are reasons to fear that Covid is not a one-off and that there are more pandemics to come. The best way for the Prime Minister to demonstrate his commitment to saving lives and good government is to quickly establish a robust inquiry. For the sake of us all, we need a documentary, not a drama, and quickly.